Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Corporate Culture and the Secret Service

Recently, I finished reading "The Kennedy Detail: JFK's Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence" which, in large part, is attributed to Clint Hill and other agents, but it is Hill who was the agent shown in the Zapruder film frantically jumping onto the back of Kennedy's car in Dallas on November 22, 1963. A valiant effort for naught because the President had already received one or more fatal rifle wounds on that dark day 50 years ago. Toward the end of the book, Hill stresses how important the bond is between agents,  the Presidents and the Presidents' families and that, after Dallas, they vowed it would "never happen again" and yet we've seen two examples just recently that things are in tatters at the agency.

Today, the current director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, reiterate that statement and it sounded terribly hollow. This is especially mystifying since she admitted that, although she was the deputy director of the prior director, she had no knowledge of the 2011 shootings at the White House near the Truman Balcony. Nor did she know anything about the shots that actually hit the living quarters until she read about in a Washington Post series.

I think I can sooner believe in the Tooth Fairy than that one, but, if true, the culture is more than rotten, it is decayed to the core of its administration. Simple fixes won't work and major corporations have seen this by their recent revelations of, for example, the ignition switch debacle that shook General Motors and left multiple deaths in its wake.  Ironically, both GM and the Secret Service are now under the leadership of women. This is not to say that women were at the helm and, somehow, involved in both egregious oversights, but they were in administrative positions at GM and the Secret Service.  So much for equality.

Corporate culture isn't anything new and is an important factor in the world of organizational psychology.  There are plenty of savvy journalists helping companies improve their status quo.  One outstanding contributor to the professional literature is Dr. Rudolf Moos of Stanford University who has spent his career assessing environments in specific areas and developing scales for measuring how well they mesh with the corporate mission and the individuals involved in that work area.

Perhaps it's time for the Secret Service to reach out to Dr. Moos and his associates for some evaluation and re-creation of their corporate culture. Certainly, we cannot have our President and his family placed at risk in what is purportedly the "most secure facility" in the world when we've seen it happen at least twice. That is, we've heard/seen two incidents.  Based on the misinformation supplied earlier regarding this most recent invasion of the White House by an intruder with a knife, we don't know how many other incidents have taken place and the information has been withheld from us.

A series of other incidents relative to Secret Service agents, accompanying the President on a trip to South America, who had been drinking in April 2014 and, allegedly, cavorting with prostitutes on another trip had come to light. Didn't this set off major alarm bells in management back at their base? Was it dismissed as just a few guys who needed to blow off some steam or does it run deeper than we know?

Are the agents truly as committed as Clint Hill once said they were in this special "band of brothers?" One has to wonder and hope that something more nefarious isn't involved here.  Should we be watching the TV series "Scandal" more closely or "Madam Secretary" or even old shows of "The West Wing?" Is fiction closer to truth. For all we know, it is.

The corporate culture of the Secret Service is under a microscope right now and that is as it should be because our Commander-in-Chief and his family and associates need to have the best possible protection. To say that an agent feared, somehow, that there would be a price to pay for speaking up at a meeting where she knew a bullet had hit the White House windows is to say that fear, not clear-headed management skills, rules the ranks of those employed there. This type of culture cannot exist, nor draw a breath of air, unless there is tacit approval of some sort from top management. And, if Ms. Pierson wants to use Harry Truman's phrase of "the buck stops here," then she had better be ready to clear out her desk.

Loyalty is surely appreciated and it has been indicated repeatedly that President Obama is loyal to those around him, but loyalty here may be misplaced. Is it incompetence? Yes, but more than that, it is deliberate obfuscation of the facts to impart a false patina of truth and now we are left wondering what we can believe.

http://www.drfarrell.net